Scholars have not often taken seriously Carolingian claims to imperial authority in the early medieval Eastern Mediterranean. Frankish sources do indeed patently attempt to distort the relationship of their king and emperor Charlemagne (768–814) with the caliph Hārūn al-Rashīd (786–809) to make it look like one between patron and client king. Nonetheless, it seems likely that the western ruler did in fact initiate negotiations with the commander of the Muslim faithful to enable the extension of Frankish financial support to Christians living at key places in the Islamic world: Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Carthage. This relationship was understood in the West—and may have been understood in Baghdad—as specifically imperial, but even so it was always both non-territorial and non-exclusive in character. Moreover, there is no reason to believe that local Christians understood the relationship in the same way, or accepted Carolingian claims to authority over them or their communities.
Jonathan P. Conant is Associate Professor of History at Brown University. His research focuses on processes of empire, networks of communications, violence and trauma, and questions of identity in late ancient and early medieval Europe and the Mediterranean. He is the author of Staying Roman: Conquest and Identity in Africa and the Mediterranean, 439–700 and co-editor (with Su-san T. Stevens) of North Africa under Byzantium and Early Islam. His current project, The Carolingians and the Ends of Empire, ca. 795–840, seeks to reassess early medieval ideas and experiences of empire in light of the wide-reaching contacts along and across the frontiers of the Frankish kingdoms in the late eighth and early ninth century.